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States of play

Paul Gambaccini turned up on the Today programme the other morning.

He’d be invited on because, obviously, a matter of supreme import required the sort of lucid, capricious commentary only his particular lexicon of musicology could supply: namely, the UK’s dismal performance in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Gambo didn’t disappoint, rolling out much learned discombobulation about the quality of previous Eurovision “rekkerds”, how the UK is still being punished for invading Iraq, and how Scooch nonetheless had “the last laugh” by “making it into the top ten of the latest network chart listings” – what, in everyone else’s language, is called the Top 40.

It was a pithy reminder both of the man’s legendary verbosity and the logic-defying staying power exhibited by his slot on Radio 2.

America’s Greatest Hits, squatting at Saturday teatimes for fuck knows how long, is the most bizarre programme on national radio. Ancient crackly rekkerds from the back of beyond nestle alongside obscure R’n’B “cuts” which are “racing up the Billboard charts and taking the AM stations by storm”. Gambo’s voice has never aged; it’s always had that fey, whiskery, raconteurish quality that’s just as endearing as it is enervating.

Then there’s all that information. “This, a song first written precisely 32 years ago, and subsequently recorded by no fewer than six artistes, now receives an incredible seventh outing…” “After 13 weeks outside the Billboard top ten, it’s a number two placing for a woman who began singing at the age of six in her local methodist gospel choir…” And inevitably: “Soon to be making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, he’s someone who has the honour of being up for a rekkerd 12 Grammy nominations, and who now invites you to [insert corny song title here].”

Naturally, if he tried to change any of this schtick, it’d be a crime. And if he got axed, it’d be the sort of thing you’d complain to the BBC about even though you’d only ever listened to the show by accident rather than design.

Anyway, it was good fun to hear Gambo out of his usual den and jousting with Edward Stourton and James Naughtie at 7.40am. As it is, he can’t have much else to do with his time during the week. Other than wonder when Simon Bates will finally get round to finalising the line-up for that Madeleine McCann charity record.

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